(Picture: "The Presence in the Midst" - J. Doyle Penrose)
I found this article about the prayer cap by Francis Clare Fischer really helpful.
I am also blown away by these words from Kelly Joyce Neff's Fotheringhay blogspot, which express exactly what seems to be happening in my life with headcovering and Plain dress:
"The fundamental principle, for jumping timelines, involves the coordination of a few significant fields of intentionality.
1) You identify the timeline you wish to move into.
2) You shift your vibrational state to match the timeline.
3) You lock in the vibrational state so it does not waver.
4) You take an action that is an expression of the new timeline.
In this fifth stage, you must hold the vibrational state of the new timeline you have chosen, making choices coherent with the new timeline and persevering with this despite sensory information to the contrary."
In the holy gospels of the New Testament of the Holy Bible we meet the disciples of Jesus, His friends, the people who devote their lives to following Him in order to learn from Him. They didn’t learn only from His teaching but by being close to Him, looking at Him, noticing how He treated people, listening to His voice and noticing how He spoke to people. They loved Him, where He was they wanted to be, they wanted to stay with Him and be like Him.
I feel the same as those disciples. Just in the same way they ran away when Jesus was arrested and tortured and put to death, pretending they did not know Him, so I think I would not be brave enough to do as He asked and accept the cross if I want to be like Him and follow Him. I do not feel brave enough for that. Just in the same way the disciples often argued about trivial matters, squabbling among themselves, or like Martha irritated with Mary because she wouldn’t come and help out with the meal preparation when there was such a rush on to get everything ready, so I am little-minded and preoccupied with things that don’t really matter, focusing on the mundane and the everyday when I might have chosen instead to pay attention to the great things of the Spirit.
One time Jesus said to His disciples:
Come ye apart into a Quiet Place and rest awhile (Mark 6:31)
So they went with Him and made their way to a Quiet Place.
In the story, they need some space because they are so rushed and pressed by the demands of ministry, besieged continually by people in urgent need. The time out is necessary because they have no space to eat or pray or regroup their energies. It’s a practical measure.
Sometimes of course we need exactly that same thing: time out because the pace of life has become more frantic than anyone could handle without stepping off the treadmill every now and then.
But having acknowledged that Jesus was dealing with a practical issue, I would like to share some thoughts that came to mind from reading those words.
Come ye apart into a Quiet Place and rest awhile… (Mark 6:31)
…ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord… (1 Corinthians 6:16-17)
That quotation from 1 Corinthians comes from a section where Paul is advising people of faith, who aspire to a holy life, not to become entangled in the ways of the World.
I think the kingdom of Mammon has spread insidiously like a slime mould to create an astonishingly widespread infiltration of the fabric of society; and my heart witnesses with these words of Paul that we should consciously separate ourselves from that sprawling kingdom of Mammon, for, as Jesus said (Matthew 6:24), Ye cannot serve God and Mammon (and Mammon has no friends or acquaintances, only enemies and servants).
So I think that the call of Jesus to come apart to a Quiet Place can be a daily spiritual imperative as well as a practical respite.
In looking at His words in this way, I am not thinking at all that we should aim for a passive or complacent life: dull, unengaged, under-occupied and easy. That’s not what I mean. I’m not saying we shouldn’t work hard, nor that we should shun our neighbours and members of our family.
What I mean is this. Walking in the Quiet Way means taking another path than the mainstream, choosing a badger track through a field rather than the motorway. It means consciously choosing the way of unregarded littleness and humility, the path of gelassenheit in which we are content to be lowly and of no account, eschewing status and celebrity (not that most of us will have to make that particular choice since most of us aren’t considered that special in the first place!).
Walking in the Quiet Way means stepping aside from hierarchical systems and special privilege, accepting a low and unnoticed place. It means disengaging from all that dangles in front of us as temptation and titillation, distracting and disturbing us and dragging our attention hither and thither until we lose our focus on the beautiful things of Christ.
Walking in the Quiet Way means that we have made the choice to come apart from what most people run after (success, wealth, privilege, attention, status, achievement, dominance, affluence, luxury, kudos, admiration, being special and making others envious) and by following the Quiet Way are coming apart to a Quiet Place.
The Quiet Place is not a retreat house or a rural idyll, it is inside our own hearts. It is the condition of contentment with what life has offered us, the willingness to accept as God’s good gift whatever this day has presented.
We are walking in the Quiet Way when we are finding the path to that Quiet Place where we can listen to others without clever responses jostling to the front of our minds waiting impatiently to make an appearance, when we can turn aside from the prurience and obscene grotesquerie (scenes of torture and terror, close-up images of wounds and butchered bodies, sudden close-ups animals copulating or of their genitalia, close-in footage of humans in sexual intercourse) that infests modern television, when we can be happy with the way we are and the things we have without feeling the need to stockpile kits and gadgets or to obsess over our facial hair, skin condition and flab.
We are walking in the Quiet Way when we know we have enough: when a glass of plain water is enough for our thirst, when vegetable soup and brown bread are enough for our supper, when friends chatting over a pot of tea is enough of a celebration, when knitting or gardening or reading or writing or walking in the country are enough for our leisure pursuits.
We are walking in the Quiet Way when the day starts and ends with a prayer, when we remember to give thanks for our food, when we take joy in the members of our families, when our hearts are big enough to spare a little love for our neighbour in need or lonely.
We are walking in the Quiet Way when others are safe with us, can be themselves with us, find encouragement in our company, when we are gentle and kind to those who are with us, and loyal to those who are not.
Walking in the Quiet Way we become people of quietness, who have found the eye of the storm, the Quiet Place at the centre of our turbulent being where we can rest in Christ in the midst of whatever is going on.
And sometimes we will lose our balance, fall off the tightrope and make a complete mess of things. Sometimes what we will do and be will make us absolutely ashamed of ourselves. And when that happens, God understands, and He forgives us, and we can simply start again.
So here we are at Greenbelt, UK’s hippy Christian festival that speaks up with passion for social justice and re-imagining the world according to the principles of the Kingdom, having a groovy time. The photo is a view of the Alahambra Palace, a wonderful toyshop with a sign saying 'Miraculous Simplicity', raising money to restore a derelict watermill in Cumbria. Inside the Palace was like the interior of a gipsy caravan, woodstove and all. There was also a small windmill on top, with a Jolly Roger attached.
I have done (okay, a tad prematurely) a fair chunk of my Christmas shopping, rushing excitedly from stall to stall overflowing with beautiful colourful handcrafted fair-traded artefacts that are changing international society while solving my increasingly challenging gift dilemmas in one go. Hooray!
I can neither tell you nor show you what I have bought in case (ssssh!) Father Christmas is put in a compromised position by having his recipients early alerted to his intended surprises. I can tell you they are fab and groovy though, and the Elves will be feeling less tense than usual when Advent comes around.
In amongst this shopping spree I did make a valiant and semi-successful attempt at attending some seminars. I wanted to hear John Bell speaking on Imagination – really wanted to: last time I came to Greenbelt, back in about 1992, John Bell gave a whole series of talks and I went to every one, concluding that if he asked me to follow him to the ends of the earth I would go cheerfully, pram and all. Greenbelt has revved up since those days, and now if you want to go to a seminar you have to queue – and I do mean queue, though you won’t necessarily get in as everyone else is queuing right there ahead of you.
John Bell’s queue was not allowed to commence until three-quarters of an hour before his seminar, unlike one the previous day where queuing had commenced three and a half hours before the event! Half an hour before John Bell’s the queue was about a mile long and people were sitting there in camp chairs making an afternoon of it, with a burly Yorkshireman bearing a bright blue placard saying END OF THE QUEUE, Greenbelt’s variant on ‘Repent the End is nigh’. I gave up.
But I did get to Tom Sine’s seminar about re-imagining society. He talked about the New Monasticism; re-forming society along lines built on community living, as a way to affirm and celebrate life in the face of deepening recession and widening gaps between rich and poor. He described the New Monasticism as being delineated by Liturgy, Rhythm and Direction – which is to say I guess that it has a praying together element, a regular rhythm of shared life and work, and a common vision.
He spoke about new initiatives for communal living, and at one point he asked who of us gathered there lived in community. ‘We do!’ I said excitedly to the Badger who was there with me. ‘No we don’t:’ he disagreed, ‘we just live with our family.’
Later, talking about it together, I outlined again at some length (!) my utopian vision for re-modelling the world starting with the Wilcock family.
When hard times hit us and we were scattered, at one point I asked the tribe to keep in mind that Hastings would eventually be Home. Those who wanted to keep the family together could converge on Hastings, and one day we would all make our way back: which we have. In moving back this last winter, we looked only at houses in a small nexus of roads, so as to be within walking distance of the other family members – and now we all live no more than fifteen minutes walk from one another, and each household can reach the other by Tricycle Routes (ie child friendly paths that go through the park or tiny quiet roads and alleys).
Living together as we do (whether in one house or shared proximity) has allowed our money to stretch the furthest possible. Money that has come to us from the generosity and frugality of the grandparent layer (mine and Badger’s) of the family, which would have been enough to finance one household living conventionally (ie, me and the Badger, and the younger generation can wait their turn to inherit) has contributed significantly to married households getting started in their own houses and to securing accommodation spacious enough both to allow unmarried family members to live alongside us and create an important bolt-hole for the remnants of the grand-parent generation. It’s been my observation that older people can continue the independence so precious to them provided they have such a bolt-hole to come and stay when they are tired or discouraged or unwell.
The price of accommodation has risen by ridiculous levels over the last decade. In 2000 I bought a 2-roomed apartment for £26,000.00. I sold it in 2007 for just shy of £100,000.00. Prices have come down again since then. Perhaps it would sell today for £75k or £80k?? But no way has the price gap between 26k and 80k been closed by increasing wages since 2000. Many people in our town earn between £7k and £12k a year. Anyone earning over £20k is among the well-off. Our family is, in the main, not among the well-off. Sharing a home makes the difference between the impossible and the possible, the terrifyingly unmanageable and security.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Living as we do keeps overheads down to an amazingly low level – especially as our household is frugal, simple and almost completely vegan. We grow our own veg, we make our own entertainment by being together, and we live a small precarious on-the-edge kind of life. This means that we are free to answer God’s call on our lives: a freelance stone mason, a stained-glass artist , a full-time Christian writer – and one of us working as the chief cook and bottle-washer in a log cabin on the shores of a lake teaching youngsters to live in and love the wilderness, a summer occupation only. You can see at a glance, none of us is going to get rich this way! Of the rest of us, one works for the town council with the midwifery school, one of us is a full-time mother and intends to home-school, one of us publishes Christian books, and two of us are musicians. One of the musicians and the stained glass artist also back up their vocational work with relatively undemanding day-jobs that leave a lot of creative space respected and free in the soul. So the way we have chose to live also allows a kind of minor tribal renaissance. Or so we like to think.
It's important that we have support systems in place, because a crucial aspect of this is that some of us have no intention of ever becoming rich. We have noticed that our government likes to spend a lot of money on guns and bombs, we were dismayed by the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and we do not like to think that we are helpng to finance such ventures. We prefer to stay within the law (though I admire those Quakers who withold in protest the proportion of their taxes that would be spent on war), so our strategy is to keep our earnings so low that we pay little or no tax, but by living together allow our earnings to cover what is necessary to provide for our daily needs and take care of one another. Council Tax we don't mind paying, because that goes directly to the local services like schools and roads and hospitals and police, which we feel a citizen's duty to share in supporting.
And it doesn’t just stop with the finances. Somewhere in my wide-ranging reading about the Amish (possibly in the book called ‘After the Fire’) I came across reference to the Stolzfuss family’s approach to church, which was that it melded seamlessly with their approach to life, and was based squarely on family. As family they farmed, traded, lived and worship: life without dislocation, joined-up living. The writer identified this as creating a very strong foundation on which to build; and I believe it to be so. When we live a family life of mutual support and trust, when we know that we can absolutely depend on the love and backing of the rest of tribe, so that their resources are our resources and they will never let us down, then as people we become strong: we become those who can contribute, build, and give.
I know that as an individual, in ministry I am weak: but in the context of my family, that capacity for ministry is strengthened beyond recognition – by ministry I mean teaching, worship, intercession, hospitality, and the healing and prophetic life.
After listening to Tom Sine today, it occurred to me that there are two aspects to bringing in the Kingdom, creating the Revolution, which might be classified as:
Public and Domestic, or
Masculine and Feminine, or
Structural/Strategic and Detailed Everyday Minutiae, or
Aspirational Dream and Mundane Nitty-Gritty or
Visionary and Earthed, or
Macro and Micro
Both aspects are political and theological, and essential for the thing to work. Tom spoke about how he loves to cook, and how he would rather be in the kitchen making supper for the grand-kids than a guest-speaker to a packed audience all the way across the Atlantic at the Greenbelt Festival. But whatever his personal preferences might have been, he was where he was. And it occurred to me that you do need a team. In order for any of us to be overseas igniting the vision, some of us have to stay and keep the home fires burning. Part of the revolution is about speaking and teaching and strategizing and platforms and speeches and publications: part of it is about watering the vegetable garden and reading bedtime stories and waiting for the right weather to do the laundry so it dries on the line in the wind.
Both halves of the equation must be present to fulfil the prophetic life.
What encouraged me today, as I listened to Tom Sine who attracted an audience filling the tent to bursting and whose books are avidly read and widely respected, was the reflection that, yes, we are doing this. We, who have (most of us) written no books and spoken to no audience, who will never be remembered or celebrated because we haven’t been heard of in the first place, by making Kingdom choices and stewarding our time and resources in our lifetime the Kingdom way, can be the Revolution we dream of.
When my husband Bernard died and my daughter and I left his little cottage on the edge of the woods and returned to an urban existence, we realized as we drove into town that we’d unwittingly brought a stowaway with us. Sitting on the dashboard of the car was a wood-ant, still clutching the little piece of bark she’d been bringing home to contribute to the building of the Great City.
Here we have no abiding city, but we look for the city that is to come: and I firmly believe that however quiet our voice and however overlooked our lives, we will find a way to bring whatever small piece we have managed to hang on to, and together we will build the new Jerusalem.
Had he lived, my father would have been 95 years old next week. As I’ve mentioned before, he died when I was 25 and my sister was 23. Of course, I think about him a lot, but especially around his birthday, and I am filled with regret that I didn’t get a chance to learn about him more. You just take for granted that your loved ones will be around for a long time; after all, my great aunt Bessie and my maternal grandfather outlived my dad. But Dad, being the most interesting person that he was, left before I could pick his brain. When he died, my sister Joy and I were just coming into full adulthood ourselves, and though Joy did enjoy some time working with Dad on some genealogy research, we never did get to spend the quality adult time that kids crave with their parents, when parent and child can join as equals.
For those of you who still have loved ones or close family friends who are getting on in years, now is the time to “pick their brains.” Some people do this in a documentation form, either videotaping/audio taping an interview, or having the older person write down some of their thoughts. Some, of course, just sit down and talk.
If you’re lucky, the elderly person will want to talk. Some, like my mom, become kind of uncomfortable discussing much beyond relating what she had for dinner, what her weather is like, and so on. Occasionally, she will come up with a childhood story, but sometimes it’s like pulling teeth.
Here is a conversation I’d have with my dad today: Tell me some stories of when you were growing up. What kind of games did you play? What kind of books did you read? What was an average day like for you? How did you handle being an only child? What were your favorite and least favorite parts of school? What kind of courses did you take? Do you feel you made the right career choice? What are the most favorite and least favorite parts of your job? If you had been able to go to college, what would have been your concentration of study? How did you feel when you first became a parent unexpectedly after 12 years of marriage? You had 2 girls; did you ever wish for a boy too? What were your greatest fears and worries? What would you do over if you could? What is some wisdom you could share about marriage? How did you come into your faith? Are there parts of your belief system you question, or have curiosity about? What was daily life like during World War II? The Great Depression? How were you treated in the army when others learned you were a pacifist? What did you never learn or do that you wished you had? What is your greatest disappointment? Tell me more details and stories from the traveling you and Mom did before you had kids. What were the difficulties in having your elderly, sick mother living in our house when Joy and I were growing up? What are your ideas about death and heaven? What important ideas and values do you want to make sure to pass on to future generations? How does one best handle the aging process? Why do you consider yourself to have always been a “maverick?”
Through Joy’s ongoing genealogical research, we are still putting together bits and pieces of Dad’s life, but the deep, important things that made him the remarkable man he was are hard to ever discover now that he is gone. I believe it was Tennyson who wrote “Too late, too late, ye may not enter now.”
I certainly don’t want to end on a depressing note. I did have many wonderful, enlightening conversations with my dad, and he made us well aware of his ethical code, his basic understanding of what his role in life was, his call to serve God, his priorities, his social conscience, his willingness to speak up when others wouldn’t. What I wouldn’t give, though, for one last long, poignant conversation.
Okay, I really want to be in bed right now, but the Muse wouldn't leave me alone. She drove me nuts when I went to lay down with the idea for this ebook. She decided she wasn't leaving me alone until I wrote it, so I have been playing unwilling secretary to a happy muse ever since.
It is a good book. It takes you step by step through the ebook creation process, from choosing your subject, to writing it down (even if you don't have a computer), to marketing it, promoting it and getting others to sell if for you!
For more information click here to visit my store. Price of the book is $9.95 and delivery is instant.
There, the muse is finally happy now, so I'm going back to bed. Nite all!
It seems to me that the simple message:
TREES PROTECT AGAINST DROUGHT AND FLOOD
needs to fly round the world.
If that simple piece of information could get lodged into the common mind of the human race, then our experience of life on this earth would radically improve.
People think many different things about trees, and often people are afraid of trees. Even in England where trees are loved, I oftentimes hear people say: ‘That tree’s taking over! It’s growing bigger!’ about a tree in their yard.
Trees are often blamed for damaging house foundations, sometimes correctly, often incorrectly.
As we in the western world get ever more neurotic and anal about the way we like things done, trees are cut down because they are messy, because they drop leaves, or blossoms, or fruit, or drip sticky stuff.
It’s much like having your lungs amputated to stop that nasty green stuff that you cough up into your hanky when you have a cold.
Trees slow down the movement of water through the landscape.
Their root systems stabilize the topsoil.
Their canopy provides shade and also moisturizes the air.
Tree are the lungs of the earth.
There is no future hope for the human race on earth unless we plant and nurture trees.
I have looked at a lot of pictures of Amish farms, because I love the Plain people. I notice they are not planting trees as they should be. Field after field rolls across the landscape with hardly a tree to be seen.
In England, people are putting decking and patios and brick paths instead of plants in their garden.
All plants, but especially trees, protect and stabilize eco-systems, keeping safe the animals, insects and birds and the human race.
Please, if you love the Earth, if you love and honour the Creator of the Earth, if you love your neighbour, if you want to do something about the escalating problem of drought and flood and environmental pollution – PLANT AND PROTECT TREES.
Plain sisters reading this – you are the ones who exercise stewardship and plant gardens in your yards: you are the ones who read blogs online and can influence the men who make the decisions. Please use your influence to plant trees.
We need them. Trees sustain life.
May your day be happy and blessed.
...beautiful in quietness, peaceful, comfortable with the darkness.
And, today also, Friendly Wind came and tossed the washing all day, so that when the evening drew down the clothes were soft and pliable, ready to be folded and go directly into the drawers, all creases gone.
‘Men need to be respected and women need to be loved’ is the gist of a line of thinking I came across in a Christian book. The author believed this to be the basic nature of men and women, at the level of the Making, innate. I thought about it for a long time and concluded I was not in agreement with it.
I remember being struck and intrigued by the remark of a friend that she needs to be ‘treasured and adored’, and I have noticed that many men seem to feel a strong need to be admired; but I think of those needs as part of the frailty of human beings which makes them vulnerable to manipulation and control by others.
For me, part of the attraction of the Plain life is an understanding that people of either gender and any age need to be both loved and respected if they are to flourish; but that love and respect should be unconditional, arising from the commitment and attitude of the one who loves and respects rather than a reward for being loveable and respectable. Of course, since we are all human, it helps things along if we make ourselves easy to love and respect!
In similar wise I think that trust, in the Plain Christian sense, is a gift not a reward.
Trust and respect are aspects of the package of unconditional love that is integral to the life of a Plain Christian. It is a gift, and it is not to be withdrawn. Even when people let me down badly and it has become necessary to put in place clear boundaries to protect myself from them, it is still a requirement of my calling to treat them with love, trust and respect, and also honesty. This is a balancing act – but so is any relationship.
The concept advanced in the Christian book (that men need respect and women need love) is inherent in the thinking of the majority of those who practice or favour head-covering in the Church.
The scriptural principles they have in mind are set out in this passage:
1 Corinthians 11:4-16.
This body of thought in the Church also supports the understanding that women will be wearing headcoverings as a sign of submission to men (usually they would say that a woman wears a headcovering as a sign of her submission to her husband, but as all the women and girls wear headcoverings it’s clearly a gender thing not a husband-wife thing, otherwise only married women would wear the headcovering).
The scriptural texts supporting the submission of women to men include Ephesians 5:15-33
If you read on over the chapter divide into Ephesians 6, the first few verses continue the argument, instructing children to obey their parents, and slaves to obey their masters:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. (Ephesians 6:5-8 NIV)
(The same instructions are given again in almost identical form in Colossians 3)
This whole section in Ephesians 5-6 opens with those words in Ephesians 5:15, ‘Be careful, then, how you live’. The word ‘careful’ I take to mean ‘mindful’ rather than ‘worried’ or ‘anxious’. It’s about leading a serious, diligent and sober life.
The thrust of Christian teaching was towards creating a revolution within society rather than the overthrow of society. In the pastoral epistles, the point is made repeatedly that if each individual person behaves with gentleness, kindness and humility, there will be no need to either make laws or get rid of them. Like going for a walk with a quiet, well-behaved, self-disciplined dog – it won’t matter if the dog’s on a leash or not, it won’t affect the way the dog walks alongside you. Laws and leashes are for beings who lack inner control.
The New Testament also offers us these verses about men and women:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21 – part of the passage we read already).
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28 NIV).
When I read the New Testament as a whole, paying attention to the implication of some of Jesus’ encounters with women, what I think I am seeing is a vision of human society in which men and women have equal status, their lives being taken up into the life of Christ, but having towards one another so humble and gentle an attitude that there is no need to overthrow the structures of society.
Paul’s letter to Philemon about Onesimus is a good example of this. There’s no need to overthrow slavery if the slave-owner is going to set the slave free by himself – and that’s the way Paul wants it to be done. He doesn’t want to smash and break the grasping, clutching fist, he wants the man to unclench it himself, and become open-handed.
So my understanding of headcovering and gender relationships is that the covering is a reminder to humility, gentleness and submission to Christ – not to men.
However, I do believe there is an issue of nature to be addressed about gender relationships: and I think that as we each have a unique masculine/feminine balance in our psychological and biological makeup, this issue is only good for a generalization and there will have to be exceptions where the people concerned are exceptional (there will always be the occasional woman who dreams of being a truck-driver and man whose soul is satisfied by embroidery – and why not?)
A.S.Neill, known for Summerhill School, when asked if he could detect any gender differences noticeable in his pupils, replied that he had observed when the children were taken camping that almost always the boys tended to go exploring, ranging far and wide, while the girls preferred to stay close to the tents.
In our hunter-gatherer past, I am told that in general the men were the hunters and the women were the gatherers. These different tasks require entirely different sets of characteristics.
I believe that men and women are very different, respond differently, are suited to different occupations – in general.
Generally speaking, I think women are better suited to the domestic and neighbourhood circles, and men to the public arena – what is sometimes described as cauldron magic and sword magic.
I find this is certainly so in myself. I intensely dislike confrontation, I am happy with a nurturing role, I do not like dealing with strangers, and I am unhappy if my work is not home-based.
Therefore it suits my nature to take the role that appears submissive – follow behind my husband into a public gathering and let him handle the management of the interface between our home and the outside world.
I am also very happy to teach and lead and preach in a women-only setting. It troubles me not at all if no men ever hear or consider what I have to say and what I think. If you can influence anybody you can influence everybody, and influencing women and children is good enough for me.
I do not think there should be women church leaders and bishops because I do not think there should be church leaders and bishops; but women in holy orders is fine with me – I think we are all in holy orders, I believe in the priesthood of all believers and every Christian person is set apart as holy unto the Lord. Those who have heard a calling to the priesthood feel a vocation which I respect, and I don’t mind what gender they are because the whole construct is for me an unnecessary apparatus added on. If I ran the world and the church, society would be a circle not a hierarchy, and the teachers would be those seen to be wise and the leaders would be those who people trusted and followed and it would be as simple as that. But I don’t; we have a hierarchical structure to work with because of its masculine inception, and therefore inevitably there will be women called into holy orders because that’s the only recognized official channel for the charismata with which they have been gifted.
So for myself, I have come out of ordained ministry, I prefer to lead and teach among women and children only, I find peace in covering my head in submission to Christ, and I aspire to a gentle and humble spirit that offers love, trust and respect on an unconditional basis to all people and including a proper respect for my own person and well-being.
Two small additional points:
Point 1) I note that, in 1 Corinthians 11:16, Paul argues for short hair on men, long hair and covered heads on women, on the basis of critical mass – the overwhelming common mind of the church (If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice— nor do the churches of God v16). In verse 14 he asks: Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him? Well, obviously not if by ‘nature’ we mean ‘biology’: he must be talking about ‘the way things just are’ or ‘what we experience as normal’. Therefore this whole business of headcovering is not a root aspect of our relationship with God – it doesn’t arise at the level of the Making: it’s part of the patch and repair of our fallen-ness. This witnesses in my heart, at least. If I could be the person I ought to be in jeans and T-shirt with a shaved head, fine; but I can’t, my clothing makes a difference.
Point 2) In 1 Corinthians 11:16, Paul says, famously, women should cover their heads (in part) because of the angels. We have no idea what he meant. But there are two kinds of angel. There is the angel who is sent from God, a communication from the World of Light: and there is also the Arising Angel of a community, the corporate or group personality that forms from any human society. If I keep to the Quiet Way (which I am seeing will involve headcovering for me), not only does this rejoice the Kindred of the World of Light (one kind of angel) but it also keeps me recollected in the kind of behavior that avoids offending the Arising Angels of human society, and indeed influences the kind of Angel that will Arise.
That is not just my fancy?
This last week or two, I have been feeling so beleaguered. In this house, that we moved into last November and had builders in until the spring, the second wave of building works is commencing. We’d finally established a sense of the household working as a community, and begun to settle down. It had begun to feel like home, calm and normal.
But today Alice’s and Hebe’s studio is being ripped apart for necessary work to be done. The boiler must be changed and the bathroom and toilet upstairs altered, and a door to the garden made in the living room downstairs. Our builder is a quiet, courteous, gentle man, and a good craftsman – and he has come to feel like a friend. Even so… we are very shy, private people, and the thought of everything upheavalling again has been unbearable. The pains have come back in my arms and I haven’t been able to settle to anything, wandering round like a lost soul feeling guilty for not applying myself to my work. I go a bit out of orbit, lose myself, feel insecure in the world (plus writing has gone manic with two books that should have been put to bed come back with further work to be done and problems to solve, and new deadlines looming. Aaaagh).
Then two things happened. A Jehovah’s witness showed up on our doorstep wanting to talk to Alice (not home) who had been kind to her. She talked to me for a while, and left me with a Bible verse: ‘Jeremiah 29.11,’ she said: ‘look up Jeremiah 29:11 in whatever Bible you read.’
Then we had a call from Grace. Alice (who’d come home) took the call. I could tell it was really important, but couldn’t tell if it was good or bad. Alice gave a little gasp and went slightly pink and had an aura of intense quiet excitement. I thought either someone had died or won the lottery. But no. Grace had found a hedgehog in her conservatory. I agree that is at least as exciting as dying and a lot more exciting than winning the lottery: I haven’t seen a hedgehog since 1995. Not even a dead one.
So we raced over there with our cameras. It had found its way in through the open conservatory door and put itself to bed in a bag of bags. She’d heard it rustling, and was just a bit inexplicably afraid of its aliveness – and anyway thought we’d like to see.
We took it out of the bag and put it in a sheltered place in the garden with a plate of catfood and a bowl of water. We took lots of photos and Grace videoed it – I think she will put the clips up on Facebook.
Hmm. A hedgehog rolled up in a tight ball against a cold wind and a difficult world. But there are kindly people who mean well and provide rescue from the inadvisable shelter of plastic bags, and offer free catfood. Life is not always as dangerous or frightening as it seems.
And Jeremiah 29:11, it turns out, says:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
So anyway, I'm back at it once again. I've got the posts from some of my other blogs moved in, and plan to start importing the posts from this blog today.
I had no idea I had posted so much, but that is okay--I will get it all taken care of! Until I get everything imported and set up right it will be a little crazy, but it is going to be worth it.
So please check out my latest post on Annienygma.com and let me know what you think of the place so far. I would really appreciate your comments!
I really feel like I've went over the rainbow with all of this!
|Courtesy of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company|
In the comment thread that evolved from an earlier blog post about head-covering, Grace made the point that ‘Plain’ seemed something of a misnomer: if one wished to live simply, surely the simple option would be to just go with straightforward hair.
I know what she means!!
The longing for Gospel simplicity has possessed my soul since my teenage years, and since I was in my twenties, Plain dress has been part of that.
I’ve dabbled in it, drawn back from it, plunged into it, scrambled out again, plucked up courage to do it, and given up, several times now. Given my parallel determination to avoid hoarded possessions (eg clothes I do not wear), the resulting switches of attire have been extremely expensive. Trying to find something ‘Plain enough’ that was not actually Plain dress has contributed towards the confusion and expense.
Coming back to it once more has a feeling of being tired now and wanting to go home.
All I know is, when I dress Plain I am at peace. When I say ‘Plain’ I mean my version of it – not strict Amish, but covered head, full skirts, modest sleeves and neckline, no jewellery or makeup, mainly solid colours, quiet colours.
I’ve had some searching conversations about it in the last weeks, and two particular questions have helped me very much in understanding the journey.
The first was from my patient husband, who desires with all his heart to be a ‘plain man’ – which is to say, honest, peaceable, frugal, faithful, reliable, kind, a good witness, a man of integrity, self-disciplined, prayerful and humble – but who feels no call whatsoever to dress Plain. To him, the way of simplicity includes thrift and restraint in clothes purchases – so he buys in charity shops and in the sales, wears out what he has, mends what he can, and is content with few garments in his closet. He likes it when I dress in pretty things – jewellery, make-up, bright colours, the feminine style normal to our culture, high heels etc. He likes my hair loose and wild. He is also respectful of my choices. And he wanted to know, simply: ‘Why?’ What is it about Plain dress that draws me?
Well, it isn’t something that I find easy to express in words. It’s at a deeper level that instinct or emotion. It’s at the level of my sense of self, at the level of the making. When I dress Plain, I become who I am; my soul finds the socket it was made to fit into. In Plain dress, I am peaceful.
Plain dress houses my soul, a bit like the seashell houses the hermit crab. I find the world difficult and frightening; I find engagement in the world wearing and exhausting. It is hard for me to find my way or figure out how to take part in the pattern/dance of life even to the minimal extent that ensures survival. When I dress Plain, I find myself in a sheltering and enclosing persona that allows me to make a way through.
It is also a withdrawal from the competitiveness that can be part of gender identity and relationship. It’s definitely anti-bimbo in terms of self-definition, a request to be related with on the basis of soul, who one is, rather than success or sexiness or a plethora of achievements (hair cut and coloured just right to a trendy style that suits one’s face shape and age group, lipstick that really lasts and bronzer/blusher in the right place on the cheeks, clothes elegant and stylish, heels one has mastered the art of walking in and… d’you know I actually can’t be bothered to go on thinking about this). When I put on Plain dress, I put down a network of tensions, put down the fear of ageing and the humiliation of weight gain, the feminine imperative to be ‘beautiful’ according to the definitions of the world.
Peace. Plain dress means peace to my soul. So that’s why.
The other question I’ve found helpful is Grace’s – isn’t it the antithesis of simple? After all, some people wear two hats at once, the kapp and the outer bonnet, and what could be plain or simple about that?
I gave this a lot of thought. If one really wished to arrive at plain and simple, wouldn’t jeans and T-shirt be the obvious route?
It took me a while to grope my way to what’s happening here with me. And then I managed to put my hand on it. For me, Plain dress is not primarily about being simple. It does simplify things in the long term – the high street shops become irrelevant, the clothes are comfy and practical and durable, there are no worries about changing fashions, and so on. But the central value of Plain dress for me is that it acts as a constant reminder. I am very aware of my attire. I notice what I am wearing. All day I can feel the head-covering. All day I notice the dress, the apron, whatever. If I go out anyplace, people look at me with curiosity (which I don’t like at all), intrigued by the fact that even in a multi-cultural society somehow I look different.
‘Plain,’ for me, is another term for ‘godly’. Plain dress is a constant silent reminder of what I have signed up for, what I aspire to, where I meant to be headed, who I wanted to be.
Quaker Jane posted today on Facebook about the Friends Tract Association article by Seth Hinshaw on Detraction – and I confess that no-one needs to read that tract more than I do. Dressing Plain takes me into the companionship of others who are serious about living their faith (not just singing about it and talking about it), who will remind me of what I well know and should put into practice better than I do. And when I go offline and am no longer in their company, no longer reading their words, my Plain dress stays with me, a quiet reminder that cannot be ignored, the knot in the hanky of my life that keeps me mindful of the person I mean to become.
That person is:
That person cares for the Earth and loves her neighbour. That person is a loving and cheerful wife, understanding and sweet-natured, encouraging to her family and a loyal friend, a good listener and a calm influence. That person puts her trust in Jesus and lives in the light of His Spirit and holds her own lantern steady amid the turbulent energies of Earth.
That’s why I want to wear it. That’s what it’s for.
It’s not to draw attention to myself or be holier-than-thou. It’s not because I espouse a doctrine saying women are born to servitude in the natural order of things, nor that men everywhere will be consumed by lust and lasciviousness if they catch a glimpse of my 53-year-old belly button or happen to see down my blouse to my bra (fat chance – though I do think that how one woman thinks it’s OK to dress is a step in the direction of how all women think it’s OK to dress, and that does have implications for modesty and gender relationships). It’s not because I’ve joined a strict, repressive sectarian cult and want to tell you if you’re mainstream you must be headed for Hell.
It’s just a reminder to me of the path I’m supposed to be on, and that is both a challenge and a shelter to my soul.
It is also (for me, not necessarily for thee) part of the Quiet Way, the path of simplicity, the road of blessing. It involves a de-cluttering of the soul, throwing some of the baggage that has been newly identified as trash overboard. The earrings and make-up have to go, it seems (so my heart says), but also the swearing and the detraction of others. That's a step further in the way of simplicity. It's adventuresome. And if I don't have some kind of constant reminder, I shall forget. I shall slip back. I know this from experience. I need my clothes to remind me - there is nothing/nobody else who will.
Plain dress is where I stop being lost and find myself re-centred in the presence of my Lord, and find my way back to who I am, where I came from, and where I’m going.
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup of water
I mixed this up and placed it beside the sink to use instead of the expensive mouth rinses of the past. This step alone will save me several dollars over the brand-name mouth rinse I have purchased for years.
It's not as pretty or as tasty as that sugar-sweetened colored liquid, but it is minimalistic and it does the job just as well.
There are recipes for other mouth rinses in the ebook, but this one was my old tried and true favorite, the one my dad would mix up and fill our mouth wash bottles with so routinely as a kid. I think the only time we ever bought mouth wash was when family was coming to visit--I think he was afraid of being thought too cheap!
I don't care what people think of me or my choice of mouth rinse. It is effective, minimalistic and very frugal. Have you ever tried it?
My computer and digital technology has enabled me to reduce my possessions an extreme amount. My laptop serves as my telephone, my television, my stereo, my bookshelf and a myriad of other items. I am not ready to toss a few clothes in my backpack and head out, however!
I read about some like this and I wonder if there is a line between minimalism and asceticism. What is the point of having so little if you must struggle to perform everyday tasks like cook food?
H! why should the spirit of mortal be proud? Like a swift-fleeting meteor, a fast-flying cloud, A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave, Man passeth from life to his rest in the grave. 'Tis the wink of an eye, 'tis the draught of a breath, From the blossom of health to the paleness of death, From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud,-- Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Inspired, I looked through my other drawers. One was almost filled with things I no longer used any more. A few quick tosses, and I discovered some storage bags I had actually forgotten about owning! I have been purchasing zip locking food storage bags when I had a large box stashed away!
In the end, one drawer was totally emptied, and another almost. I took the empty drawer and placed some of the kitchen towels in it, so that no longer do I have to use a chair whenever I need a towel for something.
I didn't intend to eliminate so much stuff; my mindset has finally gotten to the point where I realise that I no longer need or use it! It actually feels good to look around my house and know that I am slowly paring down to what is truly important to me!
These little unexpected eliminations are such a blessing! They let me know that I am truly doing something right!
Learning to knit as a child, on a pair of short, colourful knitting needles, though I found it a challenge to get my head round the whole thing at all, eventually I got to the place where everything would roll along smoothly. For a while. Then I made mistakes, dropped stitches and got in a muddle. At that point I would take my knitting to my mother and ask for her help. She knew how to ravel up the lost stitch through the threads of the knitting, and could spot the location of a mistake, take the rows back to that point, pick up the stitches again, re-knit the rows for me, and set me up again to carry on. D’you know I’m making this up completely, I cannot recall at all if that’s what my mother did, but it’s what my perfect fantasy mother would have done, so let’s say that’s what she did.
However I remember quite clearly what happened when at school as a teenager I learned to sew. I could hand-sew with no difficulty; I’d learned the basics of embroidery at primary school and carried on from there at home by myself with a little book of embroidery stitches. Hand-sewing was fine (though not until I was a young mother did an intelligent woman point me in the direction of the crucial role of ironing in hand-sewing, especially patchwork). But at school I ‘learned’ to use a sewing machine. This is how it went. I would get out a machine and thread it up. I would sew along OK for a while, and then the thread from the bobbin would tangle into the most horrendous mess under the foot. I would struggle on until the whole thing (quickly) seized up and would not budge another inch, then go to our teacher and ask for help, not having the first clue what I had done wrong or how to put it right. “Well, go away and think about it!” she used to pronounce, refusing to offer any help or advice beyond that. I went away and thought about it and this was my solution; I hid the sewing machine in the cupboard and got another one out. The same thing happened again. It took a lot of sewing machines before I finished the pink mini-skirt I was making.
Recently I’ve got my threads tangled again. I’ve been hiding metaphorical sewing machines in metaphorical cupboards for a long time now, and it’s time to either stick to hand-sewing or learn how to understand what’s happening.
I came out of the ordained Methodist ministry a few years back for a number of reasons but principally because all my threads were tangled. I ploughed on as long as I could, getting more and more messed up, and eventually came to a complete stop. My superintendent minister and my Chair of District, God bless them, tried by every means in my power to talk me into staying and make it easy for me to do so, but all I wanted to do was put the machine back in the cupboard. I’d gone away and thought about it and I didn’t know what to do.
I had issues with church structures. I felt that communities of faith should be less hierarchical and more like a circle, with acknowledged sages and seers rather than paid clergy. I think the linking of personal faith and vocation to home and income and career is an easily foreseeable disaster.
I felt an irresistible pull to simplicity of life and environmental responsibility, not as add-ons but as an integral actually lived expression of regular faith; and this seemed to strike no chord in the hearts of the majority those to whom I preached Sunday by Sunday. I felt that where I wanted to lead they had no desire to follow, so I was not a leader for those people.
My personal life was in a mess. I’d been divorced, remarried, widowed, remarried; and there was fall-out. My family of origin was in quiet disarray, and I was an unwelcome figure in both the new step-family I had gained and the life of my first husband’s new wife (her life including the large circle of people who had been my loved family for twenty-four years). These circumstances resulted in anger, grief and a sense of deep injustice. I also felt it inappropriate for an ordained person to have in her family circle such a muddle of discordant relationships, such deep and childish feelings of rage and ‘it’s not fair!!’ as I had.
And I wasn’t at all sure women should be ministers. When I thought about it, I wasn’t sure men should be either.
And after a decade of mega-stressors, I was tired beyond measure and only wanted to be left in peace to see if anything was left of my soul and put it together and get it working if I could.
I went to the Quakers for a while and loved them: but Jesus, the Bible, the sacraments and the doctrine of the Trinity are central to my personal faith and were not to theirs. I tracked down Conservative Quakers in the UK but they state uncompromisingly that if you make common cause with them you must sever all connection with other religious groups, and I don’t plan to do that. I have a lot of Quaker in me, but a lot of Anglican, Anabaptist, Catholic, Taoist, Buddhist, Born Again Reincarnated Charismatic Pentecostal Jesus Freak as well. So, no severing, then.
We moved back to Hastings to be with my family because (to cut short a long explanation) that’s what the Spirit said to do. We now live very family-ish life. All of us chose carefully and threw money at the situation until we ended up with a large house in which five of us live together, a smaller house in which my married daughter lives with her husband and child; and then my oldest daughter and her partner also live nearby. The three houses are all within fifteen minutes walk of each other. The people who live in the houses all equally own the house they live in, and we all help each other with the Difficulties Of Life as and when. The big house we live in is also a base for teaching and singing and prayer, for quiet days and meetings and a hospitable space for people to come.
I found a way to continue to be faithful to my call to teach the Gospel by stepping up writing as I was no longer preaching or leading worship or a pastor or any kind. I also still lead retreats and am the main instigator of the home group and other happenings in our home. Writing pastoral theology and Christian fiction does not make me rich, but living all together I can get by and afford my contribution. I chose not to run a car, because of the expense, the pollution, the speeded up lifestyle and the crowded roads. Cars are a big source of problem stuff in our society and horses and buggies would be a whole lot better.
I’ve been exploring the Third Order of St Francis (Anglican Franciscans), and been intrigued to find that this path lights my husband’s fire in a way that religion in general rarely does; and I’d like us to walk as one. I’ve been scared by the concept of Life Vows in taking the Franciscan way, but loved that their emphasis is on connection and relationship. They are humble and understanding and gentle, their focus is on way of life rather than inquisition as to doctrine, and that way of life majors on simplicity and cherishing the beautiful earth and living the beautiful Gospel. They say their main purpose in existence is to make Jesus known and loved everywhere, and what more could you want, really?
I’ve been attending worship at a wonderful, warm, loving very high Anglican (all incense and robes) church. They have won my heart entirely.
Things seemed to be looking clearer.
Then I got my knitting tangled and my sewing machine seized up again.
I went to the little Methodist chapel where I and my family had our base before I came out of the Methodist Church. Their numbers were down, morale was low, and I could see they needed us. They needed encouragement. It’s a beautiful witness they have there. I could see I owed it to them to go there more in support of what they are doing. But they are right out in the country and I no longer had a car.
Then the call to dress Plain (headcovering included) went on clamouring inside. I felt awful about it because I’ve changed my entire wardrobe about four times trying to get this right. Especially the head-covering I find really embarrassing. I feel so conspicuous and people stare at me. But it’s what the Spirit is saying in me.
But I thought how can I go the Plain dress path if I don’t want to sign up to the Conservative Quakers for all the reasons above and I do want to join the Third Order of St Francis. And, come to that, how can I join the Anglican Third Order if I have one foot in the Methodist Church still? And how can I go to the Methodist Church even part of the time when their minister thinks I’m seriously bad news?
I began to feel very wretched.
On the weekend of my birthday I had a little Quiet Day gathering at home. I realized that some of my friends were scattered and lonely. Spiritual women who are not of this world, they have their share of adversity in daily life. They needed me. Without a car I couldn’t get where they were – well, I could, but the walk, bus, train, walk, visit, do it all in reverse method was just too tiring for me: I’ve had some health issues and depression issues in recent times and energy has been low. I’d like to go to evening worship on Sundays as well as the morning, but by evening time I feel too tired to walk there.
I wanted to go to Penhurst fellowships too (the place where I conduct retreats, see right side-bar), but they, like my friends, are out in the country, accessible only by car.
My mother is in her eighties and very alone. We need for her to live nearer us, but Hastings is not her kind of place. She needs to be in one of the Kent/Sussex villages.
And there is a serious possibility of my grandson being home-schooled. We need to go and meet with the other home-schoolers in Sussex, but how to get there?
Everything seemed seized up and tangled, and I couldn’t figure out how to make it go at all. Thankfully Christ is more like my fantasy mother than my benighted schoolteacher when it comes to tangled threads. I took it all and put it in His lap. “What’s Thee think, then, Lord?”
“Get a car,” was Thing 1. So I did. Now I can go to evening worship, my mother can get started on moving to where she needs to be (and I can help her), I can visit friends who are sick or lonely, we can explore the home school issue, I can go along to encourage the Methodist brothers and sisters in the little country chapel some Sunday mornings each month – so many things are possible. For just me by myself, it was a wholesome and good discipline of simplicity being without one; for the particular place I hold in the family, it’s the right thing for the time being.
“Green light on the Third Order of St Francis,” was Thing 2. So I am going for that; but also making informal links with the UK Conservative Friends, who are walking in the same direction in so many ways.
“Dress plain and cover thy head” was Thing 3. Gulp. OK. So I started wearing the head-covering again – and have been bowled over by the spiritual shifts that has made, deeper and further reaching than I could possibly have imagined.
Things 4 and 5 were that it’s right to keep on going to the Anglican church where I feel so happy, but also right to go sometimes to the Methodists. But Thing 5 has a proviso that I am scared about and can’t manage yet. Thing 5 is that I must go to the Methodists sometimes but sort out my relationship with their minister who understandably regards me with a fair degree of caution. I am very scared of this. I’m a bit too ASD for that mission, and very tempted to hide that sewing machine and its tangled feet in the cupboard. But part of the Power Of The Head-Covering is a kind of current or force of Truth. It hides my spirit under God’s wing and therefore gives peace to my littleness in getting things done. I don’t know why.
Then digging around online I discovered to my surprise that not only are there Plain Catholics but Plain Anglicans as well – it ain’t just Quakers and Anabaptists! There’s a whole interdenominational international Plain movement of Christians living simply and loving the Earth, covering their heads and growing their beards (and that’s just the ladies!). And the icing on the cake was when I discovered Magdalena Perks. Just her name rejoices my heart. She is glorious. Magnificent. Dotty. Covered. And Anglican. This encourages me that my attendance at Anglican church and involvement with the Third Order of St Francis will not inherently necessitate a distancing from brothers and sisters who are called to be Plain.
Oh – and I have spent a year working hard on my attitudes regarding the tangled threads of my family (divorced family, step family, family of origin). I’ve learned a new way of praying (Ho’oponopono if you’re interested; which if you can fight your way past the websites and individuals who have battened on to it to make big bucks is a powerful self-alignment with the Spirit of God and rings true with the life and teaching of Jesus) and written three novels as a way of doing the rigorous inner work that needed to be done. And though the challenges continue to flow in, my spirit is much freer and I can see my way much clearer there.
The threads are starting to untangle. Maybe instead of just being an insoluble mess I will be able to weave it all together into something beautiful.
I tell you what, if you are still reading this and haven’t died or gone to sleep, you deserve a medal!
Today I have learned this new word. Gelassenheit.
Sometimes encountering a new word stirs up wonder as much as meeting a captivating new person who lingers in every corner of the psyche long after the time together is over.
Gelassenheit. It has given me so much to think about. Here follows what I have learned.
Lassen means to leave, so gelassen means to leave go or let go. ‘-heit’ as an ending is comparable to the English ‘-ness’ (eg fröhlichkeit and happiness – I guess the k comes about because you can’t really have fröhlichheit): so gelassenheit is letting-go-ness, the ability to let things be, to leave them as they are, to let them rest and not pursue them when it is not wise.
It isn’t only a passive thing though, a refraining from disturbing what was better left alone; gelassenheit, like ‘letting go’, can also be understood in active terms as releasing-ness – having in one’s heart the attitude that allows freedom. So this might be forgiveness, the ability to let go a grudge or a spiritual debt (or a financial debt for that matter), or having about oneself the kind of comfortableness that engenders release from tension and anxiety. It’s a peaceable, forgiving word. The Amish, who value gelassenheit, are known sometimes as Die Stille im Lande (maybe best translated as the Quiet People in our Midst), and gelassenheit is part of what underlies that quietness.
The German philosopher Heidegger liked the word. He described it as having the spirit or attitude of availability before What-Is that lets us be content to leave things in their inchoate or potential form of mystery and uncertainty. In the terminology of the Church, that would be like the contemplative prayer of the mystic tradition, that gazes upon God in adoration that forbears from analysis. And indeed Heidegger did come upon the word in the tradition of Christian mysticism, in the writings of Meister Eckhart.
Eckhart talked about the poverty of spirit (as in, ‘How blessed are the poor in spirit’ of the Sermon on the Mount) in terms of contentment: when desire and will and ambition are stilled because the soul has found her peace in God, wanting only what God wants, satisfied with what God gives, and therefore at peace with what is.
Eckhart says that the prerequisite for this condition is an empty spirit, immersed in the beloved will of God, having no desire for any thing of its own accord but only for what God in His good pleasure chooses to give. And indeed, what point could there be in desiring anything else? If God has not willed or given it, of what value could it be?
He (Eckhart not God) says that, when they hear about this gelassenheit, oftentimes people become all stirred up wanting to make changes in their circumstances – engage in a specific course of action, go and live in a hermitage or join a special community or something – but he says all of that is just about yourself really. He says that the way to find quietness and rest in God’s will is to leave/abandon yourself; as Jesus said, Whoever wishes to come after me, let him deny himself… And Eckhart says the way to make a start with that is wherever you find yourself, deny yourself. He says that this should apply to how we direct our goodness, that we should not be fussy or choosy about how or where we are good, not select this or that course of action, not do good so much as just be good. And he says we should even apply gelassenheit to our ideas about God, letting go of preconceptions and theological constructs so as to leave ourselves unhindered and open to experience directly the mystery immanent and transcendent that lies beyond all our intellection pigeonholing of the Divine.
Gelassenheit, letting go of everything, is a primal state of simplicity allowing us directly to experience the reality of God (this is how Eckhart sees it).
It also manifests in such virtues as humility and mercy, for it is willing to let go of status, privilege and deserved place, and willing to let go of grievances and grudges and the right to punish and pass judgement.
Gelassenheit is a key concept in the Amish way of life, and underlies their aversion to individualistic self-expression. In Amish culture gelassenheit manifests as calmness and meekness, composure, stolidity, imperturbability, and also as submission – the willingness to relinquish self-interest or one’s own way and will.
Why I at the present moment find this word so illuminating is that I can immediately see its relevance to the practice of head-covering, for that arises out of the Christian tradition of submission. I personally dislike the word ‘submission’, because for me it imports association with sadism, power games, domination and life-stifling cruelty and selfishness – not attractive, then! But if I substitute for ‘submission’ the term ‘gelassenheit’, that imports for me an entirely new perspective – relinquishing self-image and agendas in favour of allowing the way things are to simply be, letting go of addiction to power and status, permitting the flow of grace, letting the sweetness of humility permeate relationships, allowing the freedom of detachment like taking off a constricting corset or cutting a sheep free from a strand of barbed wire fencing tangled tight in its fleece.
Headcovering as gelassenheit is a relaxing of the grasping fist, opening the hand in the stream of grace instead of vainly clutching at the living water, opening the cage door to let the imprisoned bird fly free.
It’s not a million miles from the wu-wei of the Tao – the art of non-doing – (see Chapter 37 of the Tao Te Ching) whereby without apparently doing anything, effortlessly the sage achieves everything.
Staying with the Tao for a minute, gelassenheit is also reminiscent of the Valley Spirit (see Chapter 6 & Chapter 28 of the Tao), the feminine principle which receives, which allows penetration by the other, taking the lowest place like the riverbed at the bottom of the valley, lying below what is above. This humility and passivity (in the true sense of the word passive; permitting, allowing) is recognized in the Tao as immensely powerful – ‘The sea is the king of a hundred streams because it lies below them’. ‘The greatest misfortune is the self,’ says Chapter 13: ‘If I have no self, what misfortune do I have?’
In Chapter 7 Lao Tsu points out that the reason Heaven and Earth continue without being exhausted is that they do not live for themselves – and immediately I can see that is true. The whole nature of sin, the whole ecological and environmental disaster that humanity is, comes about because of selfishness, self-aggrandisment, self-interest. Gelassenheit would permit the earth to heal.
And in Chapter 8 Lao Tsu says that wise people are like water, finding their way unassumingly to the lowest place.
Chapter 13 continues:
So one who values the self as the world
Can be given the world
One who loves the self as the world
Can be entrusted with the world
Thus gelassenheit makes the spirit as wide and kind as the sky, full of understanding, gentle and receptive.
Gelassenheit among the Amish is the refusal to be self-promoting, embracing insignificance, avoiding pushing oneself forward.
I guess it also accepts if need be the condition of finding oneself to be counter-culture, laughable and at odds with the mainstream, accepting that awkward and uncomfortable experience with the peace of the person who has built her nest in the will of God. At the top of this entry I have posted again a picture I’ve shown you before of a nest we saw and photographed up on Blubberhouses Moor in North Yorkshire, tucked down in a deep crevice within the rock formations there: ‘Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee’; ‘Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God’ (Psalm 84:3 KJV).
What I am finding is that the practice of headcovering has its own language, and is potent for this genre of spiritual experience. It speaks to me, in a way that I had never expected. The headcovering talks to me all day long without ever really saying anything, about gelassenheit and the principle of humility and the valley spirit, the way of peace. That seems like a jolly good thing to me.